Ausmus, Hunter share memories of Gwynn

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By Jason Beck and Matt Slovin /

DETROIT — Two important parts of the Tigers’ organization, manager Brad Ausmus and veteran outfielder Torii Hunter, both remember the way Tony Gwynn took them under his wing early in their careers.


Gwynn, who passed away Monday after a lengthy battle with cancer, played with Ausmus in San Diego, where Gwynn spent his entire 20-year illustrious career. He got to know Hunter when the latter was a young, promising standout.


“He didn’t have to talk to that young guy named Torii,” Hunter reflected Monday. “He shared some information as far as playing the game, hitting. That’s something I’ll cherish forever. I definitely think that he’s going to be missed — I know he will.”


Ausmus remembered how, as teammates with Gwynn from 1993-96, the pair would talk hitting together and hit the links together. Ausmus admired Gwynn’s uncanny ball-striking abilities — on the diamond and the golf course.


“We started out even,” Ausmus said, recalling the rounds of golf they played together, “and then Tony kept getting better and I wasn’t, so I let Tony play on his own.”


But even more than Gwynn’s talents on the golf course, his prodigious approach to hitting is what drew Ausmus to Gwynn early in his career.


“It seemed like the guy never made an out, when you played with him,” Ausmus said. “Everything he touched seemed to find a hole. His teammates were happy for him and jealous of him.


“He was the best I’ve ever seen at putting the fat part of the bat on the ball.”


Gwynn was also on the forefront of video technology, which has completely inundated the game since. Ausmus recalls Gwynn walking around the clubhouse with his cassettes that allowed him to analyze the pitchers he was scheduled to face before anyone else showed a willingness to use that technology to their advantage.


Hunter said Gwynn’s hand-eye coordination was a gift that can’t be taught, no matter how much video you watch. That didn’t stop him from trying to pass on his talents, though.


“He’s just a good person,” Ausmus said. “As great a player as he was, he was just a good, regular man. He would talk to anyone like you were his next-door neighbor.”



Ausmus to keep Suarez at the bottom of the order

DETROIT — Eugenio Suarez has become a spark for the Tigers’ offense over the past week. He will not be a savior, as Sunday’s win showed.


He also will not be a core run producer, not as a rookie with limited at-bats above Double-A ball. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire’s decision in the sixth inning Sunday showed one reason why. Brad Ausmus’ postgame comments reinforced it.


“I don’t want to throw him in the heart of the lineup,” Ausmus said, “because there’s a lot more focus in the heart of the lineup.”


In other words, Suarez will be staying at the bottom of the batting order.


Suarez added another hit to his career-opening tear Sunday with a line-drive single in the second inning, two batters after Nick Castellanos’ sacrifice fly pushed Detroit’s lead to 2-0. Ian Kinsler’s single moved him to third base before Torii Hunter’s groundout left him there.


After Twins starter Ricky Nolasco struck out Suarez on three pitches to retire the Tigers in order in the fourth inning, Detroit built a rally in front of Suarez in the sixth. Gardenhire, in turn, took his chances to set up Suarez with a chance to break the game open.


Castellanos’ double off the left-field fence not only tied the game, it moved J.D. Martinez to third as the Tigers’ potential go-ahead run. With first base open, Nolasco walked Alex Avila, who grounded out and lined into the shift his previous two times up against Nolasco, to load the bases with one out.


It was an early situation to try to set up a double play or a force out at every base. It was a timely situation to put some pressure on a hot-hitting rookie to get a big hit. In that sense, it resembled what Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon did against the Tigers in July 2010 with Brennan Boesch protecting Miguel Cabrera in the order.


Suarez swung at the first pitch from Jared Burton and popped out to second base. Once Ian Kinsler flew out to right, the tactic worked, and the game remained tied heading to the seventh.


“By having young hitters towards the bottom of the order, you hope they can take advantage of it,” Ausmus said.

Krol says sore left shoulder has improved

DETROIT — Ian Krol said the left shoulder discomfort that bothered him in his last outing Saturday is an annual occurrence, which makes him fairly confident he can pitch through it. He also said it has improved a lot in the two days since.


“I’ve had the same thing [in the past],” Krol said before Monday’s game. “It’s not pain, just aggravating.”


Krol has arm injuries in his history, having missed time in 2011 with a reported forearm injury. This appears to be more mundane, and not something that should cost him any time, though it could lead to a couple more  days of rest.


Krol pitched through the shoulder issue Saturday to record four outs for his first Major League save. His velocity was a tick under his normal speed, but not alarming.


With two extra left-handers in the bullpen following the arrival of Blaine Hardy from Triple-A Toledo, the Tigers have options if manager Brad Ausmus wants to save Krol for a necessary situation. The options include Phil Coke, who found some recent success as a situational lefty before giving up three runs on three singles in the eighth inning Saturday.



Quick hits

• Luke Putkonen was back in the Tigers’ clubhouse Monday after undergoing surgery last week to remove a bone spur from his left elbow. His left arm was in a protective wrap, which he said is expected to be removed Tuesday.


“The swelling’s gone down quite a bit,” he said. “They didn’t really say [to] start playing catch [in] maybe four, six, eight weeks. [It] depends how it recovers.”


• Hours after being optioned back to Triple-A Toledo, relief prospect Corey Knebel returned with a statement outing, striking out three of five batters over 1 2/3 perfect innings Sunday against Buffalo. It marked his longest perfect outing of the season.


• The Tigers took a page out of their Spring Training workout plan and had pitchers take fielding practice prior to their pregame batting practice Monday afternoon. Ausmus has occasionally scheduled extra work in the middle of homestands, including a session of pickoff work last month.


Jason Beck is a reporter for Matt Slovin is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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